Panasonic TX-L32E30B £700
4th Apr 2011 | 15:19
Sophisticated, but only occasionally excellent mid-range 32-incher with Viera Connect
Panasonic TX-L32E30B: Overview
If you're in the market for a 32-inch TV but can't summon any interest in 3D or can't afford the exceptional TX-L32DT30B, then Panasonic has the TX-L32E30B with which to tempt you.
This strips away the 3D stuff and a few other bits and bobs to deliver a much more affordable edge-lit TV without, hopefully, any sacrifice in picture quality.
The TX-L32E30B shares the same IPS Alpha LCD panel as the TX-L32DT30B, which means that it can be watched from a wider angle than typical panels.
The TX-L32E30B also goes a bundle on multimedia tools, offering everything from DLNA PC compatibility to USB/SD card file playback and access to Panasonic's new Viera Connect online platform. Add to this some unusually good build quality for a mid-priced 32-inch TV, and the TX-L32E30B certainly has plenty to shout about.
It has 42-inch and 37-inch siblings: the TX-L42E30B and TX-L37E30B. As noted, for 3D you'll need to step up to Panasonic's 32-inch TX-L32DT30B or 37-inch TX-L37DT30B sets, which introduce more sophisticated colour management tools and 400Hz (actually 200Hz plus a scanning backlight).
If you'd prefer to pay less for IPS Alpha technology, the E3 series is available in 37, 32, 24 and 19-inch sizes. There is also a 42-inch model, but this has a conventional LCD display. The E3 series use straightforward 50Hz scanning rather than the 100Hz-plus-blinking-backlight of the E30s, giving them only around a third of the E30's moving picture resolution.
Although this is less likely to be of interest to you if you're after a 32-inch TV, we should add that Panasonic also has an extensive suite of plasma TVs, ranging in size from 42 all the way up to 65 inches. These include the flagship VT30 series, which has 3D playback and the highest level of Panasonic's plasma screen technology, with more affordable (but still 3D ready) options in the shape of the GT30 series and ST30 series.
Panasonic TX-L32E30B: Features
Panasonic sets always tend to be well put together, but the TX-L32E30B marries good build quality to an unusually pleasing design.
An impressively slender rear finds room for a copious amount of connections. Few stones have remained unturned in the set's bid to deliver a truly comprehensive suite of multimedia functions. A LAN port, for instance, enables you to delve into Panasonic's brand new Viera Connect service, access files stored on a networked DLNA PC or tuck into services associated with its built-in Freeview HD tuner.
Three USB ports, meanwhile, can handle video, photo or music files from USB storage devices, or can be used to make the TV Wi-Fi-capable via an optional USB dongle. Or they can be used to record from the Freeview HD tuner to more recent powered external hard-disk drives.
On top of all this there is an SD slot for photo playback and a D-Sub PC port for simple computer connectivity. The only moan that might be raised about all this multimedia thoughtfulness is that the Wi-Fi isn't built in, but is an optional extra. Four HDMIs, meanwhile, ought to be plenty to go round.
It was noted in the introduction to this review that the TX-L32E30B uses one of Panasonic's IPS Alpha panels. It should also be stressed that the TX-L32E30B gets essentially the same advanced new panel design used for the TX-L32DT30B, which means a shortened distance between the backlight and screen and faster-responding liquid crystal material.
The TX-L32E30B shifts down to 200Hz from the L32DT30's 400Hz scanning, though.
Scrutiny of the TX-L32E30B's menus reveals that it also lacks some of the high-level calibration tools of the TX-L32DT30B. In particular, there's less control over the set's colours and gamma levels. This is a pity, considering that some other brands manage to provide extensive calibration tweaks on much cheaper TVs.
Panasonic's latest cloud-based online service, Viera Connect, improves upon last year's Viera Cast system by going more overtly down the Smart TV 'apps' approach, with an Apps Marketplace and the option to choose the applications you want and where they appear on the TV's onscreen menus.
All the apps at the time of writing were free, but it's as sure as night follows day that some paid-for ones will appear sooner rather than later. Also promised are hardware accessories including joysticks, treadmills, digital scales and pulse-monitoring armbands for use with some of the games and sport/leisure apps due for launch in the coming months.
Among the most notable of Viera Connect's services are the BBC iPlayer, YouTube, the AceTrax movie service, Skype, Twitter and Facebook. Note, though, that there's no open internet browser.
There's perhaps trouble brewing for the current Viera Connect onscreen menus when the number of apps available starts to soar, as the menus don't allow you to get many apps on screen at once.
It's also undeniable that rather a lot of the apps currently available are designed for overseas territories. Both these issues – particularly the latter one – are entirely fixable over time, though.
Panasonic TX-L32E30B: Picture quality
Pictures are frustratingly close to greatness, but don't quite manage to go the extra mile.
When it comes to contrast, for instance, while the set is impressively expressive at the brighter end of the video spectrum, it bottoms out into greyness a little earlier than we'd like when trying to render black picture areas. This makes the picture feel a touch unbalanced when watching high-contrast content such as a typical Blu-ray film and also obscures shadow detail in dark areas.
Motion handling is also slightly frustrating. Turn off the Intelligent Frame Creation (IFC) processing and you'll see more judder and motion blur than was evident on the TX-L32DT30B, presumably on account of this set's inferior 100Hz-plus-blinking-backlight arrangement versus its costlier, 200Hz sibling's scanning technology.
However, both judder and blur are reduced considerably by activating IFC, which makes motion exceptionally sharp and crisp, but at the cost of some flickering and halo-type artefacts when the set is pushed hard by very motion-heavy sequences.
Despite this, you'll probably find that you prefer to leave IFC on, though only to its Mid setting; a bit more control over IFC's potency – like the separate judder and blur tweaks Samsung gives you for its Motion Plus processing – would have been a good idea.
The main good news about the TX-L32E30B's pictures is that they have an enjoyably - and unusually for a 32-inch set - cinematic lustre, thanks in particular to the TV's colour handling. The set doesn't present colours with the sort of garish vibrancy many edge LED TVs achieve, so at first glance you might feel that its palette looks a touch muted.
The longer you live with it, though, the more you'll appreciate the naturalism, subtlety and balance of its tonal range and the way it assiduously follows the sort of reference colour cues preferred by organisations such as THX and the Imaging Science Foundation.
Sharpness is superb, too, with IFC helping render pristine HD sources that are full of texture, while standard-definition sources are upscaled with panache and without exaggeration of source noise.
It's also a relief to discover that black levels, while not particularly deep, are at least consistent, with the TX-L32E30B avoiding the sort of backlight inconsistencies that plague so many edge-lit TVs.
Lastly, the TX-L32E30B's IPS Alpha panel can be watched from wider viewing angles than most LCD TVs before contrast and colour levels start to plummet.
Panasonic TX-L32E30B: Sound, value and ease of use
The TX-L32E30B's sound is slightly better than that of many 32-inch flat TVs, with a more open mid-range and well controlled - if not particularly extreme - bass and treble extensions.
The set even manages to open its soundstage up a bit to deliver more impact when action scenes kick in. The bass lacks the depth to make the audio truly special, though.
The TX-L32E30B is difficult to judge in value terms. On the one hand, it's a whole £400 cheaper than Panasonic's TX-L32DT30B 3D-capable edge LED TV, so if you're a fan of Panasonic's LCD sets it's much more likely to be something you can afford.
It's also true to say that the TX-L32E30B has a decent feature count for its money, at least in some areas, with its multimedia capabilities being particularly impressive.
However, it also lacks a few features, especially on the calibration side of things that you might expect to see from other brands at this price. And while its pictures are generally good – excellent, with the right source material - they're not good enough to make it a genuine mid-range star.
Ease of use
Aside from the aforementioned difficulties with Viera Connect's interface and a disappointingly drab menu system, the TX-L32E30B is very easy to use.
The remote control has pleasingly large buttons, and a mostly intuitive and thoughtful layout, with only the rather tucked-away main menu button letting the side down.
The onscreen menus are also slightly better organised than previous incarnations and, although they might not be particularly stylish, they are at least easily legible.
Panasonic TX-L32E30B: Verdict
The TX-L32E30B uses very similar panel technology to the flagship TX-L32DT30B and the lack of 3D playback is unlikely to be a disaster for most people after a 32-inch TV.
Likely to be of much more interest to a 32-inch buyer are multimedia features, and here the TX-L32E30B is right up to scratch, thanks to its DLNA capabilities, USB recording/playback, and Viera Connect online service.
The TX-L32E30B is also a substantial step forward aesthetically for Panasonic, thanks to its slinky profile, impressive build quality and cute finish, complete with a dash of metallic grey in the centre of the bottom edge.
There are many things to admire about its pictures, not least the way it sidesteps those two common edge-LED issues of limited viewing angles and inconsistent backlighting. Colours look warm and movie-friendly and motion clarity is outstanding with IFC engaged.
However, IFC can cause a few problems and without it motion is merely passable. The set's black level response is a little average too, and finally it would have been nice if there were a few more calibration tools to play with.
The TX-L32E30B is much easier on the eye than most previous Panasonic mid-range sets, and is better built than similarly specified models from other brands.
Its pictures are naturally coloured and sharp and its multimedia options are extensive and, for the most part, well thought-out. Plus, you can watch the set from a wider angle than most LCD models before the picture quality reduces badly.
Black levels are rather average and, while IFC boosts motion clarity, it isn't without side effects. It's a shame, too, that the TX-L32E30B doesn't have more picture calibration tools, and £50-£100 off its price wouldn't be a bad thing either.
Finally, it's possible the Viera Connect interface might become a bit cumbersome as the service's content levels increase.
Cutting-edge technology, in the form of Panasonic's Viera Connect online platform, a new faster-responding panel design and an effective edge LED lighting system that helps enable intermittently outstanding pictures are set against awkward contrast levels, a few motion flaws and a lack of serious calibration tools to make the TX-L32E30B a good, rather than great mid-range 32-inch TV.
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